She drew porridge-flecked air into her majestic lungs, and bellowed: ‘Ernest!’
From the kitchen there came a series of puppyish whines and a clatter of pans, and a minute or two later Ernest Withens, Chairman of the Twytching District Council, came puffing in, an apron round his ample middle.
I enjoyed Robert Barnard’s The Case of the Missing Brontë so much that I ploughed straight on to another of the new Pan editions – A Little Local Murder.
This was Barnard’s second novel, a standalone mystery set in the village (or small town, according to certain of its residents) of Twytching, somewhere in East Anglia. Radio Broadwich is coming to town (or village) to record a programme on behalf of an American radio station in Twytching Wyoming, and the news sets the place at odds. The Twytching worthies are soon in fierce competition to appear on the show. Deborah Withens, the overbearing wife of district councillor Ernest, naturally assumes that she will be the one to choose who gets their moment in the limelight.
However, the cool and composed trophy wife Alison Mailer spies a way to outflank Mrs Withens and secures herself a prominent role in the programme. But is this snub enough for murder? For Alison Mailer is found murdered on a footpath (recently re-established as a right-of-way).
Twytching is a slightly subversive Mayhem Parva, owing something to Colin Watson’s Flaxborough or Caroline Graham’s Midsomer in tone – bourgeois values are the biggest problem facing the community.
A more lethargic and conformist town would be hard to find this side of the iron curtain, and most of the energies which might have gone into sex in fact went into tittle-tattle, back-biting and petty conspiracy. He knew most of the men loved their cars more than any other human being.
Local man Inspector Parrish (‘Such a nice man – the image of the dependable, slow-thinking, right-minded type that ought to administer law and order in such a community.’) takes the case and discovers poison-pen letters (with a sideways nod to Ethel Lina White’s Fear Stalks the Village) are close to the heart of the matter.
This is a good light read, and in the main the characters are well-realised archetypes, delivered with enough verve to make them interesting. A duff note is struck by the gay radio assistant – at full screaming 1970s campness:
‘When I saw the purple trousers I thought ‘e might be a new curate,’ said Mrs Leaze to Miss Potts, leaning confidentially over the cash register, ‘but when I saw the eyelashes, I knew it must be Radio Broadwich!’
– but in the main Twytching’s residents and visitors make for good company, and Barnard gets off some really choice one-liners which give a flavour of the period:
Murder was one of those subjects that drew everyone together, like inflation, or Enoch Powell.
A Little Local Murder
First published in the UK, 1976, by HarperCollins
This edition Pan Books
Source: Publisher review copy – thanks!
Final destination: A keeper